SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) unveiled on Friday (Mar 26) a one-stop centre in Punggol for new migrant workers to complete their stay-home notice, get the necessary medical examination as well as the support to settle in.
Located at a quick build dormitory, the pilot onboarding centre in Punggol has been operational since Mar 15, receiving incoming migrant workers from the construction, marine and process sector.
There are three other centres in Eunos and Tengah.
Authorities plan to offer COVID-19 vaccinations in future for new arrivals at these onboarding centres, said Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng.
For now, about 30,000 workers in 30 dormitories are scheduled to get their jabs in the coming weeks, as the vaccination exercise for migrant workers moved into its second phase.
In the first phase, 97 per cent of about 9,000 eligible workers have received their first dose, said Dr Tan on the sidelines of a visit to the Punggol onboarding centre.
READ: Singapore to vaccinate migrant workers against COVID-19, starting with 10,000 dormitory residents
The centres were announced at the Committee of Supply debates earlier in March.
A fifth onboarding centre will be set up at a quick-build dormitory in Choa Chu Kang soon, said MOM in a factsheet. In total, the five sites can accommodate 7,000 workers.
Previously, new migrant workers from the sector need to serve a 14-day stay-home notice at hotels before moving to a designated facility for an additional seven-day isolation period.
With the onboarding centre, those who test negative after four days at a hotel can move on to complete their stay-home notice at the facility. They stay in rooms of five and take another COVID-19 test on days seven and 15.
After completing their 14-day stay-home notice, workers from "higher risk" regions including India and Bangladesh have to serve an additional seven-day stay-home notice at another block in the facility.
If their serology test is positive, indicating a past infection, they are classified as recovered workers and will be housed in separate blocks in the onboarding centre.
"We do need foreign workers coming in to support the construction of our economy and continue the growth path that we have been used to over the last few years. And there are significant construction projects, there is also a significant uptick in terms of the economic growth that's needed in the manufacturing and marine as well as processing industry," said Dr Tan.
"And because of that need, we thought that it would be actually most expedient for us to centralise this into one common database, whereby you ensure that when they come in, they're onboarded appropriately. And at the same time, screening is done to ensure that care is delivered to the point where they need it.”
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Workers will also undergo an enhanced medical examination that will help to identify health risks like diabetes and high cholesterol early, said MOM.
In addition, they go through an expanded settling-in programme, which now includes topics like mental health education, help-seeking channels and safe living measures amid the pandemic, said the ministry.
At the Punggol quick build dormitory, workers can even register their biometric information to speed up the work pass application process.
Previously, each employer would need to arrange for the medical screening and the settling-in programme on their own after workers complete their stay-home notice.
With the onboarding centres, the total cost for employers is about S$2,400 per worker, about S$300 less than before.
READ: IN FOCUS: The long, challenging journey to bring COVID-19 under control in migrant worker dormitories
Adding that it would be "better" if some of these processes can be started in the home countries of the migrant workers, Dr Tan said the ultimate plan is to move some parts of this process to the source countries, for workers to go through them before they arrive in Singapore.
The pilot, which will last for a year, will allow authorities to study how to implement some overseas facilities as well, he added.
"By about six to nine months, when we have gotten the numbers, we can then size up and specify what kind of facility, how big (it is) and where we can set up the facility," said Dr Tan.
"We hope that it will be one to two centralised facilities to cater to those that fly in and to cater to those that come in by land. I don't envisage that there'll be a lot of people coming by sea."
Mr Chan Eng Yew, CEO of shipbuilding company Strategic Marine, estimates that he has saved about 10 to 15 per cent of the cost of bringing a migrant worker in with the onboarding centre.
"Cost savings are definitely there, and not only savings in terms of actual monetary value but also time, in terms of the resources that the company is looking to coordinate," he said.
There are currently two migrant workers with the company who arrived from Bangladesh and staying in the Punggol onboarding centre. Mr Chan said the company has also received in-principle approval to bring in 16 more.
"With the onboarding centre, it's also a very good area for us to continue to learn, to predict, and to preempt. It also allows us to take very proactive and preventive, as well as pre-emptive steps towards any future outbreak," said Dr Tan.
When asked whether there are plans to allow migrant workers to go back out into the community, Dr Tan said the Manpower Ministry plans to increase the visits to recreational centres, and slowly open up for them to enter the community.
"This is going to be a graduated calibrated process, and we are also simultaneously starting our vaccination programme for the migrant workers as well. So with a confluence of all that, I think you can expect to see some announcements," he added.
"The caveat is, we should not see any uptick in cases, we're holding it very very tightly ... So keep your fingers crossed, let's continue to maintain it that way, then (we are) actually beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel."